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:: :: OF THE RUSSIA OF TO-DAY. :: ::








30 & 31, FuRNiVAL Street, Holborn, London, E.C.



The writer's and publishers' thanks are due to
the Editors of The New Statesman and The
Saturday Westminster for their kind permission to
reprint five articles and sketches which made their
first appearance in their columns.




A Preface on Writing a Book about the

Russians ... ... ... ... .. xi


I. — Soldiers of the Tsar 1

II. — Nicolai Nicolaevitch ... .. .. 14

III.— Their Last Stand 20

TV. — Un Moiijik s'en va t'en Grnerre ... 26

Y.— Some Kultur 32

VI. — Russia, England, and Germany ... 38

VII.— Journalism at a Discount 50

VIIL— A Friendly Russian 56

IX.— Petrograd at War 62

X. — Excitement, Seen and Unforeseen ... 75

XI. — A Member of the Intelligentsia ... 80

^11. — In Moscow : An Impression ... ... 86

XIII. — From Moscow to Warsaw 94

XIV.— Warsaw, October 1914 99


XV.— How they Stopped the Drink 123

XVI.— A Note on Nationalities 132

XVII. — A Note on Bureaucracy 137

XVIII —Songs from Siberia 141

XIX. — *' Translated from the Russian " ... 151

XX. — A Suggestion on Loving Russia . . . 162


On Writing a Book about the Eussians.

This little book of sketches and studies is the
work of a journalist who was in Eussia for some
months during the early part of the war. He
spent most of his time talking to people, and in
Eussia one need never fear that casual travelling
companions will take no interest in one. He had
long chats with Eussians of all classes, officers of
many ranks, soldiers (whose taciturnity was
particularly difficult to break through), Jews,
Poles, and queer odds-and-ends who find them-
selves places within the great Empire. He tried
to get them to talk about themselves, which was
sometimes difficult, and about one another, which
was often dangerously easy. The result is a book
based entirely upon personal observation and on
gossip, and not as most of the volumes published
nowadays are, upon other books. The author is
aware that this method of collecting evidence has
the defects of its qualities, but he is equally
certain that of the many ways of getting at the


truth, the statistician's method of " random
sampling " is to be preferred to the usual
journalistic process of interviewing celebrities and
nobody else. The publicist has too often a
reputation for omniscience and epigram to be
maintained at all costs to be a thoroughly reliable
source of information. The supposed leader of
public opinion too frequently exists without a
following. The author, having derived his views
from the common Eussian-in-the-street is unable
to give his opinions, acquired from nameless
sources, that air of pontifical finality which should
mark a classic work. But, on the other hand, he
believes in the correctness of his own impressions,
which have been checked by repeated conversa-
tions and queries.

The object of this little book is to make its
readers feel that they have been among Russians,
among normal, average Russians, in the crowded
period of the present war. The three chief towns,
Petrograd, Moscow, and Warsaw, are therefore
described in separate chapters, not as the guide-
books describe them, but as they feel to a stranger.
The people in them and in the Army are the
subjects of a few sketches, in which an attempt
is made to introduce the reader to the types, to
share with him the sensation of those orderly
intangibilities which in their sum make up a
human character. A few of the problems which


at present confront Eussians are also diffidently-
described. A couple of articles have been added :
Songs from Siberia and " Translated from the
Russian," the interest of which, it is hoped, will
not be considered merely literary. The writer
believes that the character of the Russian is
exceptionally accessible, as characters go, and he
wishes to describe what he imagines must be the
keys to it.

It will be noticed that pure politics has been
avoided. There are two reasons for this. In the
first place, the writer's head is still awhirl with
the complexity of the situation in Russia. In the
second place, a discussion of politics will not make
the reader feel that he has been among Russians,
who hate politics. The attitude of the average
Russian towards his Government is much like our
own. It is all a conundrum on a large scale, and
nobody has the answer to it. A certain aged
diplomatist, astonished at a recent event, which
was greatly in favour of Russia, dropped this
remark, " I suppose it's all due to Some saint
or other, devil take it all ! " He had never spoken
for his fellow-countrymen in a more truly
representative manner.

But the people the author meets insist invari-
ably on asking questions dealing with Russian
politics. He has therefore ventured to insert


three short " notes " — on Nationalities, Bureau-
cracy, and Loving Russia — in which he has
attempted to sum up a few difficulties. The
author has been collecting a quantity of material
on those two interconnected problems — the Polish
and the Jewish — and hopes in course of time to
publish a separate study of the matter.

J. W.




The pick of the officers and men are at the front,
but only the pick. The streets seem to have a
perfectl}^ normal proportion of men of fighting
age, and on all sides one sees evidence of
Russia's enormous reserve of men. Pivato's
Restaurant, where the officers of the Imperial
Guard meet at lunch, is by no means deserted by
its military clie^itelc, although those who come
now are often aged and retired generals, who look
as if they must surely have seen service during
the Crimean War. Even as things are at present,
enough officers remain to give the restaurants a
peculiarly un-English sound; it is made by the
light silvery rattling of their spurs as they walk
along the corridors and through the rooms. I am
told that a huge number of the men who were
mobilized at the beginning of August were sent
home almost at once, because the number avail-
able was found to be enormously in excess of
probable requirements for a long time ahead.
Russia, if hard pressed, can raise an army of no
less than fifteen millions ; but she finds that about

' - ^ir-:::


a quarter of this is all she can handle at once,
although the exact number cannot be obtained.
But it is certainly the best quarter. The soldiers
at present in Petrograd often wear so many medals
that one is at first inclined to regard some of them
as the heroes of a hundred fights. Medals, how-
ever, have different meanings in Eussia and in
England. In Russia they are given away whole-
sale on all manner of anniversary occasions, and
seldom amount to much. The soldiers are nearly
all dressed in one of the numerous equivalents of
khaki in use, and wear boots that come up to the
knees as a compliment to the severity of their
winters. The long overcoats that come down to
within four inches of the ground are evidence to
the same effect. The officers, one finds, are
extraordinarily reticent, even among their closest
friends. In fact, they have no choice. An officer
will receive instructions to prepare to leave
Petrograd by a certain day and hour, but not
until within an hour of his departure is he
informed even of the name of the station from
which he is to leave the town, and he does not
know his destination until he is actually en route.
It may be the Prussian frontier, or the Austrian,
or the Caucasian, or he may be one of those
unfortunate officers sent into Siberia to take the
place of a luckier man — that makes no difference.
Incidentally, while on the subject of soldiers, it


may be remarked that here are no appeals corre-
sponding to Lord Kitchener's. Eussia has all
the men she wants, and to spare.

In the Army there are said to be no less than
400,000 Jews serving at present. No Jew may
become an officer, strictly speaking, although a
few have nevertheless recently received sub-
lieutenancies. The average Kussian soldier gets
on very well with his Jewish brother-in-arms.
The moujik has better muscles, the Jew better
brains; therefore Gentile and Jew are able to do
a great many little things to alleviate one
another's hardships. There are innumerable
stories current just now as to. the behaviour of
the Jewish soldier, who comes, of course, of a
thoroughly non-militant race. Thus : two Jewish
soldiers, suffering from leg wounds, occupied
adjacent beds in a hospital. A massagist came
and attended to one of them, who howled under
her ministrations. She then came and massaged
the other, who behaved stoically. Quoth the
first: ''Why, didn't she hurt at all?" "No,"
was the reply, " you see, I gave her the leg which
wasn't damaged. It hurt less, and I shan't have
to go back so soon." Then there is the story of
the Jew who, when the firing began, picked up
the nearest officer and bolted. The officer, as
soon as he could speak, asked: " What are you
doing to me?" The Jew replied, "I'm saving


your life." " But I'm all right." " No you're
not, you're wounded." *' I'm not, I tell you, put
me down at once." "You're wounded, I tell
you, only you don't notice it." By this time the
fighting line was far behind, and the Jew had
handed the perfectly uninjured officer over to the
nearest ambulance depot, and was explaining to
the puzzled doctors that if it hadn't been for a
trifling error on his part, he would have received
the Cross of St. George for saving the officer's
life. Lastly, there is a yarn on a frankly com-
mercial basis. A colonel offered a Cross of St.
George and 200 roubles to every soldier in his
regiment who cafptured an ensign belonging to
the enemy. A day or two later a Jew came along
with one of these trophies, and was duly rewarded.
A couple of days later still, he appeared with
another, and received another Cross and the cash
reward, and was told he was a hero, etc. Two
days afterwards he turned up with yet another
ensign. This time the colonel was inquisitive,
and wanted to know how it was done. " Well,
sir, you see, I've made an arrangement with a
German sergeant. We swop flags; I get my
Cross and the 200 roubles ; and he gets promoted.
Only as his colonel doesn't give him any money,
I allow him a commission on my takings."
Perhaps I should add that all these stories were
told me by Kussian Jews, who are on the whole


very fond of telling tales against themselves, as
they have a keen sense of humour.

Ever since the war began the railways have been
worked up to the very hilt — a metaphor surely
permissible in these times when rapidity of transit
is itself a weapon. Travelling from Moscow
eastwards, one passes or is passed by a troop or
hospital train at least four times every hour.
This goes on day and night; always the same
long trains, composed of large shed-like waggons,
in which soldiers coming from the wilds of
Siberia have often enough been compelled to make
their homes for a whole month on end. In these
overcrowded and peripatetic one-room tenements
the moujik soldier lives — barring the absence of
womenfolk — in much the same way as in his
cottage. He excludes most of the available light
and even more of the available air. He performs
his ablutions froi^ a bucket perched unsteadily on
the footboards, and then washes such few articles
of underclothing as may be spared at one time.
Every Russian station platform has an oven,
always in operation, where boiling w^ater is to be
had — to-day there are additional numbers of these
for the use of the soldiers. At every station one
sees a long queue of men armed with buckets and
kettles waiting their turns. The supplies of hot
water become the unlimited mugfuls of tea which
the Russian soldier is for ever emptying when


en route for the front. Tea and songs are his only
diversions. An outsider must speak of the fight-
ing songs of another nation with considerable
diffidence; an illustration of the pitfalls which lie
in his path is supplied by the French journalist
who spoke of a " grave and solemn chant ' ' which
turned out to be "Tipperary." The Eussian
soldiers' songs have also a grave and solemn
sound, but the words are generally descriptive.
They mostly begin on the natural beauty of some
village, and end by complaints of the behaviour
of its unnatural beauties. These songs are all
but untranslatable on account of the extra-
ordinary number of diminutive terms they
contain. In Eussian it is possible to add a dimi-
nutive suffix even to a preposition.

To the world at large the Eussian peasant
presents, whether inside a uniform or not, an
exterior so reserved and so apparently apathetic
that one is at first inclined to marvel at the
various authors who write about the soul of the
Eussian people. The soldier is seldom enthusi-
astic, but he is even more seldom querulous.
Only once did I hear a bond fide grumbler. He
had been engaged in digging trenches outside
Warsaw, and was tired. " I've been in two lots
of army manoeuvres," he said in a tone of absolute
disgust, *' but I've never had to work like this
before. " He was obviously possessed by the idea


that his commanders were not playing the game.
The Eussian soldier is very different from the
English volunteer. He does not shave daily like
the latter (on the contrary, it seems that half the
army has decided to let its beards grow until it
can return home). He does not lark about. He
is quiet and very stubborn. He is, in fact, a
great deal nearer the bull-dog than the English
soldier. He would be frankly upset by that giddy
English soldiers' song which winds up :

Send out my mother and my sister and m}^ brother,
But for goodness' sake don't send me.

He is a yokel, pure and simple. When convales-
cent he walks about the streets of the large cities
in little groups, convoyed by a Sister of Mercy,
clumsily and with astonished eyes. He does not
like the cities ; to him they are not show-places, but
something unpleasant which he does not under-
stand, or wish to understand. As a fighting man,
he does not take readily to artillery; the only sort
of combat he understands is the hand-to-hand
variety. So the authorities supply him with a
long four-edged bayonet, which, when mounted,
gives him a weapon measuring five feet six inches
long. Against this the German infantryman has
only a short blade of the paper-knife shape, and
is therefore fairly ineffective. Moreover, the
Eussian soldier's thrust includes a slight twist,
which leaves a wound hard to heal. This will


explain why the German offensive has almost
always relied upon artillery far more than upon
anything else. This sketch of the Eussian soldier
may conclude with the statement that he eats
unlimited quantities of black (rye) bread, and that
he is nearly a vegetarian, and that the combina-
tion of black bread and w^eak tea gives him a
characteristic odour rather like that of a horse.
The most popular soldiers in Kussia to-day are
the Cossacks. These are horsemen from the
south-eastern provinces of Russia, whose families
hold land rent free from the Emperor, in return
only for military service. The arrangement is the
old feudal system over again. Ever since the
Middle Ages bands of outlaws used to make
certain islands on the Don and the Volga their
headquarters, whence, little by little, they built
up something almost in the nature of a republic.
But there were to be no women in this republic.
Every Cossack who entered into relations with
any woman did so at the risk of his life. Never-
theless, their numbers grew. The series of raids
and battles which constituted their life attracted
many; to criminals it promised protection, to the
adventurous it offered everything. For these
reasons the importance of the Cossacks became
greater and greater, until, in 1772, one of their
leaders, Pugachev, was able to hold up almost
half Russia for a couple of years. Although many


Tsars strove to suppress these outlaws, it was
only within comparatively recent years that they

But the Cossack soldier remains a nomad and
a freebooter at heart. Many stories which do not
appear in print are told in journalistic circles in
Petrograd of his methods of conducting warfare,
and his little ways in general. In Poland the
officers of the Austrian invaders were clad in fur-
lined tunics of great warmth and comfort. Forth-
with a trade came into existence in some parts
w^here Cossacks were. Two and a half roubles
(five shillings) was made the regular price of such
tunics, which, one is assured, were almost invari-
ably delivered on the day following the order.
Subsequently a trade in horses sprung up. For
five roubles a Cossack found you a horse, provided
no questions were asked, and for a few weeks a
roaring business was conducted on these terms.
Then it was found that some of these cheap
animals were not of Austrian, but of Eussian
origin, and there was trouble.

After the war had lasted a couple of months
or so, and Crosses of St. George were beginning to
be distributed, Cossacks began to organise their
collection on a scientific basis. The Cross of St.
George corresponds to our Victoria Cross, although
the qualifications for it are perhaps rather less
exacting. It also entitles its owner to a small


pension, and a heroic individual may go on
adding to the number of his Crosses. Cossacks
began to form little bands, and would toss for the
privilege of capturing an officer — one of the recog-
nised qualifications for the decoration. The
successful individual would then be helped by his
friends, who would do all they could to " round
up " Austrian and German detachments, and
leaving it to him to do the actual capturing — if
it came to this. On a few such occasions the
lasso came in useful, as the Cossack often catches
horses by this method. The Cossack is not afraid
of fighting a band three times as numerous as his

About the most popular man in Eussia at the
moment is a Cossack named Cosma Krutchkov. On
August 11th, 1914, he was on outpost duty at some
point near the frontier with four comrades, when
some peasants came and announced the presence
of Germans in the neighbourhood. It was then

11 p.m., and the Cossack dislikes night work, so
nothing happened. Early the next morning, a
detachment of twenty-seven German cavalrymen
was seen in the distance. The Cossacks immedi-
ately rode to the attack. After a few shots had
been exchanged, the Germans, seeing how few
their opponents were, turned round and rode to
meet them. After a few minutes' fighting, twenty
two Germans were dead (eleven by Krutchkov 's


hand), two lay wounded on the ground, and the
remaining three had fled. Krutchkov had been
wounded sixteen, and his horse eleven times.
The other Cossacks had each received a few^
wounds. All four were taken to a hospital at
Vitebsk, where they recovered in a wonderfully
short space of time; now they are again at the
front. Krutchkov received his Cross and his fame
filled all Kussia. His vividly illustrated exploit
is to be seen in every other shop window in work-
ing-class neighbourhoods. Pamphlets and songs
about him are on sale everywhere. He is the hero
of an operetta, the subject of a thousand articles,
and the ideal of every Russian nursery. In any
but a newspaper age he would become a national
myth, possibly with his comrades, the objects of
the adoration of some local twin-cult for the
origins of which students of such matters would
seek in vain. As things are, Krutchkov 's father
has been thanked and rewarded by his ataman
for the *' excellent education given to his son,"
and even the spirit of romance must be satisfied.
So much for the men. It is less easy to
generalize about the officers. These come from
nearly every station of Russian society, and are
of all sorts. On the whole it may fairly be said
that the Russian exhibits far less phlegm than the
British officer. I met a good many of them
immediately after one of the river fights in the


San- Vistula region. They were so upset, especi-
ally those whose baptism of fire had just occurred,
that they could give us no coherent idea of what
had been happening. A good many could only
talk about the effect of the sight of bloodshed
upon themselves, and described in great detail
their feelings in the presence of entrails smoking
in the air, of the contorted faces on heads rolling
from their bodies, the casual limbs flying in the
air, and the blood in all circumstances. These
impressions were given me one night at about
10 p.m. at a railway station. About midnight
my train came in, and I went to sleep, awaking
at about 7 o'clock in the morning. In the same
compartment a group of my officers were sitting,
still talking about the bloodshed. It was obvious
that they had not slept all night. I have heard
several stories which all testify to a certain
"jumpiness " in the nerves of the officers, who
are far less apathetic than the men. One officer,
for example, in one of the fights in the woods by
the Vistula, had run a man through with his
sword. His opponent had been backing, and at
the fatal moment was up against a tree. The
sword went right through the man and stuck in
the tree. With an effort the officer \\Tenched his
weapon free ; as he did so, the corpse fell forward
and covered him with blood. The officer fainted,
and came to in the hands of the stretcher bearers


who had xjicked him up, supposmg from the
blood on his uniform that he had been severely
wounded. Another officer was so upset by a
shell which burst near him that he temporarily
lost all self-control, tore off all his clothes, and
fled, shouting wildly and incoherently. There are
a great many stories of this sort to be picked up,
especially from the Bed Cross doctors, but we
must believe that this extreme nerviness is, after
all, exceptional. It may be added that the
Russian officer is invariably courteous and on
the best possible terms with his men, who look
upon him as something in loco parentis.

The Emperor himself, in inspecting a number
of his pages who had been granted commissions,
told them that they were to consider themselves
the fathers of the men in their command. And
it is probably quite fair to assert that both officers
and men act up to this assumption of fatherhood.



The Grand Duke Nicolai Nicolaevitch, Com-
mander-in-Chief of the liussian Army, is one of
those men who are either loved or hated, but
never ignored. People used to think of him as a
narrow-minded and somewhat eccentric specialist
— that is to say, all except the few who really
knew him. Nowadays, Russia has learnt to know

The Grand Duke is a cousin of the Emperor,
once removed. He was born in 1856, the son of
another Grand Duke of the same name, and the
grandson of the Emperor Nicolas I. He filled
several moderately important military posts in the
usual grand-ducal way, and has a longish string of
honorary colonelcies to his name. Incidentally,
he is the Colonel-in-Chief of the 10th regiment of
Prussian Hussars, but that is by the way. He
spent a good many years travelling about on the
Asiatic frontiers of Russia, and is apparently
largely responsible for the organisation of the
regiments of Kirghiz Cossacks. In more recent
years he has been the Commander of the first of


the eight military districts into which European
Kussia is divided. This district has its centre at
Petrograd, and takes in the whole of Finland.
The post held by Nicolai Nicolaevitch was, there-
fore, one of great responsibility, but it was also
one of opportunity. In 1909, one of Eussia's
ablest soldiers, iVdjutant-General Sukhomlinov,
became her War Minister, and immediately set to

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Online LibraryJulius WestSoldiers of the Tsar and other sketches and studies of the Russia of to-day → online text (page 1 of 9)